99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Beverly Grove/Carthay

A.O.C.

photo by Anne Fishbein

Since moving A.O.C. to its new location, further west on the same street to the old Orso spot, owners Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne have gained a lot. They’ve gained a bustling dining room that spills out into one of the city’s loveliest gardens, all twinkling lights and warm conversation. They’ve gained some of the best cocktails available in L.A., thanks to head barman Christiaan Rollich. Yet they haven’t lost what was always wonderful about the place, namely Goin’s beautiful, seasonal menu and Styne’s outstanding wine list. It’s an incredibly flexible place to eat and drink, one where you can munch on cheese and charcuterie with a glass of Furmint from Hungary, or share a platter of suckling pig with a party of revelers and see how it pairs with a bottle of $200 Burgundy. The menu veers from high-class bar snacks to gorgeous vegetable plates to elegant pastas and back again, with burrata and baby broccoli–topped focaccia making a strong appearance along the way. However you want to parse it, the new A.O.C. has been a big win for all of us.

-- Besha Rodell

The Hart and the Hunter

photo by Anne Fishbein

Almost a year and a half after opening, the buzz surrounding the Hart and the Hunter has died down somewhat, and the once jam-packed dining room in the bottom of the Palihotel on Melrose is a wee bit calmer than it used to be. At lunch, the room can be downright serene: The tile walls and vintage plates and oddball artwork take on an almost romantic quality in the soft sunlight. But the cooking, by co-chefs Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga, might be better than ever. This is New Southern cooking at its finest — there is nowhere else in town to get grits this good, much less served, as they are here, under a medium-rare steak topped with fried oysters and a medley of wild mushrooms. The biscuits remain a mystery — how do they cram that much butter into one baked good? There are familiar standbys on the menu, like smoked trout in a jar, which comes with avocado-smeared toast, sliced hard-boiled eggs and the most gorgeous little salad of pickled onions, capers and parsley; or chicken skin cracklins, served with hot pepper vinegar to cut through the schmaltz. A short, weird (in a good way) wine and beer list and a smart and dedicated staff make the Hart and the Hunter now feel like an odd little gem rather than the toast of the town. Really, it should be both.

-- Besha Rodell

ink.

photo by Anne Fishbein

It’s hard to tell if ink. chef Michael Voltaggio is staunchly self-serious or if he’s having the time of his life — possibly both? You’ll get the most out of this giddy playhouse of a restaurant if you approach with the latter attitude in mind, no matter how seemingly brooding the lighting or the chef. Most dishes here embody extreme whimsy, backed up by all the tricks modern cookery has to offer. Potatoes are made to look like lumps of black charcoal, served with lightly fluffy, house-made sour cream, and you’re even given a small bottle of Chinese black vinegar to spritz them with (“one at a time,” the waiter earnestly instructs). Accompaniments to various dishes include mushroom hay, parsnip bark and onion caramel, and there’s a dish called “cereal” that is like a slick, warm puddle of essence-of-chicken, complete with soft egg and chewy nubs of chicken skin, with a little amaranth and goat butter thrown in for good measure. Sound ridiculous? Maybe a little. Sound fun? It is, very.

-- Besha Rodell

Jar

photo by Anne Fishbein

It bills itself as a “modern chophouse,” but Suzanne Tracht’s Beverly Boulevard restaurant, Jar, encompasses all that’s great about steakhouses, both the old- and the new-school versions. This restaurant exudes midcentury charm — it’s a room to get dressed up for, just for the fun of it. The clubby bar serves bracing martinis, there’s a maitre’d who might be wearing a purple suit, and the creamed spinach thankfully has lost nothing to modernity. But say the idea of kimchi in your Brussels sprouts intrigues, or that instead of a hulking wedge salad you’d like black mussels with ong choy (water spinach) and lobster Béarnaise. Jar can accommodate those needs as well. On a recent Friday evening, the chef strode through the dining room feeding a bottle to a diner’s baby as moguls moguled, dates swooned at one another and families celebrated. Jar takes everything that was great about old Los Angeles glamour and blends it seamlessly with much of what we love about modern dining. The steaks are pretty awesome, too.

-- Besha Rodell

Meals by Genet

photo by Anne Fishbein

There’s a beautiful paradox to dinner at Meals by Genet, Genet Agonafer’s Fairfax Avenue restaurant in Little Ethopia. You’re eating perhaps the best Ethiopian food in Los Angeles, which means that you’re eating with your fingers, scooping up portions of stunningly good doro wat and foul and kitfo with torn bits of injera, the teff-based flatbread that operates as both plate and utensil. But you’re doing so in a gorgeous dining room, dimly lit, white-tableclothed, your napkin having once been folded into your wine glass, a votive candle illuminating the giant platter holding your dinner. This surprising elegance will continue happily past your dinner and into dessert, if you order — as you should — the affogato, that lovely Italian combination of ice cream and espresso. Why an affogato? Apparently Mussolini is to blame. (Perhaps the least of his offenses.) Ice cream history lesson aside, it’s a great way to conclude a fantastic meal — and you’ll get a spoon, too.

-- Amy Scattergood